The University of Evora (Evora University) is composed of several buildings, spread across town and the surrounding area, which accommodate the different departments. Practically all of them are restorations of old historical structures closely linked to the rich past of Evora.
The most important building of the University of Evora is the Colégio do Espírito Santo, one of the places most visited by tourists from the whole world, whether for its history, or its magnificence.
The University of Evora was founded in 1559 by the Cardinal D. Henrique, from the already existent Colégio do Espírito Santo (Holy Spirit). The authorisation to function as University of Espírito Santo came as a bull from Pope Paul IV. The Society of Jesus then ran it for two centuries.
This was the second university founded in Portugal, two decades after the University of Coimbra (1537). In Evora, all the subjects could be taught, except for Medicine, Civil Law and the litigation part of Canon Law.
In the 18th century, more precisely in 1759, the Jesuits being expelled from Portugal, the Marquis of Pombal ordered the shut down of all their studies in the city. The University of Evora open its doors again only in the 20th century (1973), by decree of José Veiga Simão, then Minister of Education.
University of Evora – the building
The spectacular building of Colégio do Espírito Santo of the University of Evora has a square plan enveloping the grand cloister, also known as Pátio dos Gerais. In the centre, you can see a fountain.
The cloister of Evora University has colonnaded arcades. At the centre we can see the beautiful facade of the old chapel of Colégio do Espírito Santo, with this huge marble gantry from the 18th century. At the top, there is a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit and also of this university. When you walk around Evora, you will find the image of the dove sculpted on a marble circle in a lot of places. That means you have found a a building belonging to the University of Evora.
The old Sala dos Atos do Colégio do Espírito Santo (conference room) has a Baroque style. One of the most majestic spaces in the whole building. It is decorated with tiles and decorative stucco from the 17th century. The highlights go to the green, blue and pink tones. At the top of this room, you can see oil portraits of D. Sebastião and the Cardinal-King D. Henrique.
The different rooms of this part of the University of Evora were covered with the most beautiful Baroque tiles illustrating the subjects taught – Mathematics, Astronomy, Physics and Fine Arts – or decorative motifs. These tiles, together with four other big tiled panels, are the most important Baroque set of profane theme in found in Portugal. However, throughout the whole building, you can still see several other sets of tiles from the 15th and 16th century, paintings and ornamental stuccos.
In the west facade of the Colégio do Espírito Santo there is a lovely Renaissance portal, originating from a chapel in the Church of São Domingos Convent. It consists of a rectangular frame. On the inside, you can see a round arch.
The huge ancient canteen of the University of Evora, with the form of a rectangle, is composed of two naves and nine spans, supporting the big marble columns. Some people say these columns came from the Roman Triunph Arch destroyed in Giraldo Square. The elegant reading tribune stands out.
Present-day Sala do Senado (Senate Room), the old bookshop, is decorated with a mural painting of Neoclassic influence, from the era of Queen Dona Maria II. You can still discover the oval and circular medallions with portraits of classical authors like Virgilius, Horace and the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões. There are also themes related to Evora, such as the Roman Temple, the window from Garcia de Resende’s house (poet/editor), the Silver Water Aqueduct and the fountain in Portas de Moura.
It is also in the Colégio do Espírito Santo of Evora University that we can find the octagon, which represents the major testimony of Baroque presence. The joining of sculpture, tile and painting is made under a dome with clerestory where we can see the four natural elements represented: air, water, earth and fire.
In the library, the visitor can rejoice with a ceiling painted around 1709, with the central drawing of the Blessed Virgin, mother of wisdom. The church, at the northern part of the cloister, is made of carving from the Joanine period of Baroque, which grants it great ornamental riches although it is simple. The single church nave is narrow. There is a small rectangular presbytery.
The Colégio do Espírito Santo of the University of Evora is surely a monument you should visit, being a place filled with history and major interest details. So, it is important not to hurry and enjoy everything this visit has to offer.
The building is open to the public but you will probably visit it during teaching time. Don’t feel intimidated. You can walk freely through the university, unless you find signs indicating otherwise.
If the classrooms are empty, take a peek inside to see the pulpits and the tiles. I studied in the University of Evora and clearly remember, at least at first, spending a lot of time during class imagining the stories that the magnificent tiles tell.
Map University of Évora – Colégio do Espírito Santo
No matter what happens during your visit to Evora, don´t miss the opportunity to see this building. The best locations to get in are the door next to Espirito Santo Church (Igreja do Espírito Santo) to immediately turn right after you are in to see the great patio from the upper floor; and the big gate which accesses the patio. Both entrances are marked in green on the above map.
Consider this page as an invitation to get to know this part of the University of Evora. Shall we?